Although many people are aware that having high cholesterol is a bad thing, too many people are not doing enough to monitor their cholesterol levels on a regular basis.
One of the primary reasons for this is that high cholesterol has no immediate symptoms. This means that generally, a blood test is the only way to determine if you have high cholesterol.
Because of this, many people go far too long without treatment. In fact, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, around 55% of the U.S. adults who could benefit from cholesterol medicine are currently taking it.
Unfortunately, if undiagnosed, having high blood cholesterol can increase your risk for heart disease and stroke. In this article, we will discuss cholesterol in detail and what levels are appropriate for you.
What is cholesterol and why should you be concerned?
To best understand what your cholesterol levels should be, it’s important to understand what cholesterol is. At its most basic level, cholesterol is a fatty, almost wax-like substance necessary for your body to do things like create the structure of cell walls, produce digestive acids, manufacture hormones and generate vitamin D.
Cholesterol comes from two primary sources. The first source is the food you eat. Foods like eggs, butter and red meat contain relatively large amounts of saturated fat. The body converts these saturated fats into cholesterol.
The second source of cholesterol is the liver that produces cholesterol as part of its natural process. Cholesterol in your body is carried through the bloodstream by particles known as lipoproteins.
There are two major forms of lipoproteins. Low-density lipoproteins (LDL), which is generally considered the “bad cholesterol,” is what builds up in the arteries and leads to serious health problems like a heart attack or stroke. High-density lipoproteins (HDL), which is often called the “good cholesterol,” can help to move that LDL cholesterol back to the liver for removal. At normal levels, cholesterol is not a problem and actually aids in necessary function. It’s only when cholesterol is too high that problems begin to arise.
What are some of the signs of high cholesterol?
Although high cholesterol itself doesn’t typically yield symptoms directly, over time, high cholesterol can lead to medical issues and potentially even medical emergencies. For example, high cholesterol is often a precursor to heart attack and strokes. These can be directly caused by the slow buildup of cholesterol over time.
Unfortunately, because these emergency events don’t typically occur until it is too late and the formation of plaque, caused by cholesterol, has already occurred in your arteries. As this plaque forms, arteries begin to narrow. In addition, plaque can also cause damage to your arterial lining. It is the combination of these things that increases your risk of medical complications.
How to check your cholesterol
A blood test is the only way to know if your cholesterol is too high. According to the American Heart Association, it is recommended that all adults have their cholesterol checked every four to six years, starting at age 20. Although it can happen at any time, it is around the age of 20 that overall cholesterol levels typically begin to rise if they are going to be a problem.
If you or your provider feel you may be at risk of high cholesterol, a blood test called a lipoprotein panel may be required. This test is used to determine the levels of cholesterol in your body. In addition to measuring your LDL and HDL cholesterol levels, a lipoprotein test will also test your triglycerides, a type of blood fat often considered the precursor for high cholesterol.
Once you know your total amount of cholesterol, your provider will let you know where you sit in relation to normal cholesterol goals. Cholesterol numbers or goals are often used as a guideline. A person's normal cholesterol levels can depend on many factors, and not everyone will have the same goals given their circumstances.
Measuring adult cholesterol levels
- For adults, total cholesterol levels less than 200 milligrams per deciliter (mg/dL) are considered acceptable. A total cholesterol reading between 200 and 239 mg/dL is generally considered borderline high. A total cholesterol reading of 240 mg/dL and above would be considered high.
- For LDL cholesterol levels, measurements should be less than 100 mg/dL. Levels between 100 to 129 mg/dL are acceptable for people with no additional health issues. LDL cholesterol levels between 130 to 159 mg/dL is considered borderline high and 160 to 189 mg/dL is high. A reading above 190 mg/dL is considered very high.
- HDL or “good cholesterol levels” are better if they are kept higher. An HDL reading of less than 40 mg/dL is generally considered a major risk factor for heart disease. A reading from 41 mg/dL to 59 mg/dL is considered borderline low. The optimal reading for HDL levels is of 60 mg/dL or higher.
Measuring a child’s cholesterol numbers
- A desirable range of total cholesterol for a child is less than 170 mg/dL and borderline high total cholesterol for a child ranges from 170 to 199 mg/dL. If a child has a reading of total cholesterol over 200 it would be considered too high.
- When it comes to LDL cholesterol levels in children, they should be lower than an adult. The ideal range of LDL cholesterol for a child is less than 110 mg/dL. Borderline high would be between 110 to 129 mg/dL while high is over 130 mg/dL.
If you feel you may be at risk for high cholesterol, a provider may suggest making life changes to lower your numbers. These changes may include things like losing weight, limiting your alcohol intake, quitting smoking, exercising and improving your diet.
To have your cholesterol levels checked, contact the healthcare professionals at a nearby CareNow® urgent care clinic. Our qualified physicians will be able to help you come up with a treatment plan if you do have high levels.
Be sure to minimize your wait time by using our Web Check-In® service.
Disclaimer: Patients’ health can vary. Always consult with a medical professional before taking medication, making health-related decisions or deciding if medical advice is right for you.